Sunglasses have been with us for more than a hundred years. At first, they were used only by movie stars to avoid recognition. The first inexpensive and mass-produced sunglasses were marketed in 1929 and by 1937 had become a fad, according to Life Magazine.
Sunglasses are now worn for two reasons: protection from the sun and as a fashion accessory. Manufacturers of sunglasses have taken full advantage of a wonderful confluence of events. First, celebrities and movie stars made them wildly popular and ‘cool’, and an absolute ‘must have’ item for everyone’s accessory kit. Later, the optometrist and ophthalmology industries began to tell the populace that sunglasses were necessary whenever venturing outside. The bogeyman that they came up with was UV or ultraviolet light. According to these health ‘experts’, any exposure to UV light when outside carried serious risk of short-term and long-term damage to the eyes.
Not only were we not supposed to ever “stare directly at the sun,” or “look directly at a solar eclipse” but also not walk around on a normal sunny day without the trusty protection of our sunglasses. Just exactly how humans had survived for the past 100,000 years without sunglasses was never adequately explained.
The fact that the entire population has fallen for this marketing campaign is breathtaking, and if Edward Bernays were alive, he would surely applaud with unmitigated approval. Now, there are of course certain times when the wearing of sunglasses is necessary and beneficial. If you are skiing down a mountain on a sunny day with the glare of the sun reflecting off the snow , then surely they come in handy. Pilots at times need them. Driving your car due west while looking at a setting sun requires the use of a good pair. But for just normal everyday outdoor activity, they are not necessary.
What is particularly funny to see is people who wish to wear them simply as a fashion statement, but insist to all those around them that they are only ‘protecting’ their eyes from ‘dangerous’ UV radiation.
Visit any of the innumerable social media and dating websites and see how many people, particularly women, have a profile photo in which they are wearing sunglasses. Often, the girls are wearing the outsized ones which cover half of their face. What are they hiding? Do they really expect to attract a mate when they are hiding their face? Do they believe they are being cool? We live in strange times indeed.
I own a pair of sunglasses, but they are gathering some serious dust in my closet. I rarely take them out. First, I have no wish to be cool or fashionable. Also, I am not into Hip Hop. Furthermore, I have no need to be in disguise. And most importantly, I have no need or desire to avoid those oh-so-nasty sun rays. In fact, I welcome them. I love sunlight. One could even say I worship it. Sun worship has a long and glorious history among humankind and I feel a kinship with all the countless thousands of generations before me who paid homage to our great benefactor.
I make a point to flagrantly and obstinately violate each and every recommendation of the so-called experts on eye health. I never wear sunglasses. I stare at the sun. I look directly at solar eclipses. I give thanks for the energy giving photons from the sun. In the morning, the first thing I do is to stare at the rising sun and let its energy penetrate my eyes and proceed directly into my cerebral cortex. Sungazing has innumerable health benefits and those who engage in it will attest to this.
In addition, I want to see and experience reality directly. I don’t want a filtered view of what’s going on around me. Why would I want to walk around all day seeing the objects and people in my environment in a yellow or brown tint? I want to see you as you are, as much as I am able. Likewise, if I am having a conversation with someone and they are wearing sunglasses, I will ask them politely to remove them. How can I talk to someone if if I can’t see their eyes, the windows to their soul? If a person refuses to remove them, then I simply move along…
There’s a moment in ‘Sane Man’, Bill Hicks’s classic comedic tour de force, when he calls out a customer in the night club who was wearing sunglasses. A guy wearing sunglasses….in a dark club…at night. “Ain’t this guy cool? Wearing sunglasses inside?” He rightly ridiculed the idiot. That was back in 1989. Look what we’ve become since then. Now, I see young hipsters wearing sunglasses indoors all the time. They think it’s cool. I guess we can think the hip hop culture for this. A word to the young: Toss your silly affectations in the trash, and come back to reality. Let’s all start looking at each other with fresh eyes again. And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge the sun as our friend, and the source of all life on this planet.